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Glossier Set to Return to Physical Retail, Open Stores Globally

After announcing Glossier would permanently shutter its stores last summer, founder Emily Weiss talks to BoF about plans to re-imagine the brand’s offline footprint.
Glossier's Seattle pop-up. The brand will open its first new permanent location in the city. Courtesy Glossier.
Glossier's Seattle pop-up. The brand will open its first new permanent location in the city. Courtesy Glossier.

When Glossier’s London pop-up opened in November 2019, it had so many visitors in its opening weeks that the company quickly extended its three-month long lease to a year.

But by March 2020, Covid-19 was quickly spreading across the globe and Glossier decided to close the 2,000-square-foot space in Covent Garden, as well as its permanent stores in New York City and Los Angeles.

When other beauty retailers reopened their storefronts last summer with modified protocols, such as curbside pickup or the elimination of testers, Glossier announced it would be shutting its stores permanently.

Now, nearly a year later, the brand is getting back into retail.

“We thought about why people go to Glossier stores and there’s much more to it than just because they want to try a product on, and we couldn’t offer them any of that,” Emily Weiss, founder and chief executive of Glossier, said of the initial decision to not reopen last year. “Rather than retrofitting testers and having six-person capacity [in-store], we met people where they wanted to be met, which was very much online.”

Quickly, the brand realised that customers wanted stores back. Despite the fact that 80 percent of Glossier’s sales come from its own website (while traditional beauty retailers see the inverse), the brand’s brick and mortar stores and pop-ups have become destinations. The buzz generated by an offline Glossier location pre-pandemic — whether a pop-up in Seattle or the New York City flagship — was unmatched in the beauty space; lines outside each storefront resembled a sneaker or streetwear drop. Glossier’s Lafayette Street location in downtown Manhattan had an average of 2,000 people visit per day. In 2019, the brand’s stores, combined, had over one million visitors.

“We met people where they wanted to be met, which was very much online.”

“Our community has been extremely vocal that they deeply miss Glossier retail,” said Weiss.

Now, she said, the company has ambitious retail plans, starting with the opening of three permanent stores during the second half of the year in Seattle, Los Angeles and London. A New York City door will open next year, as well as several more. New employees joined the team, including a chief people officer and head of people for retail. Each store will have HR support.

With this new brick-and-mortar era, Glossier has a chance to build a reimagined physical manifestation of its brand, starting with a Seattle store that opens in late August.

“The loose inspiration ... is really this mushroom trip that Glossier is going on as this re-entry into retail,” Weiss explained. In 2019, a “greenhouse” pop-up in Seattle saw a 70 percent conversion rate (and a 56 percent average weekly e-commerce lift while the space was open), the highest of any offline location, according to the company.

Glossier tailors every retail space to the city it’s located in — an Austin pop-up had a “larger than life” roadside attraction and another in Boston had different “campuses,” for example. It will continue to employ that same strategy with its new locations and the theme for the new Seattle store is technology meets nature, with an emphasis on mushroom foraging, an activity the pacific northwest is known for. It will also be an expansive space at 4,500 square feet, compared to the 1,500 the brand’s previous Seattle pop-up occupied.

It’s a good time to get back into physical retail: experts think the demand for in-person shopping experiences will grow larger as the world opens up and people are eager to go out — and even wear makeup again.

“Traffic is exploding at a rate that I don’t think many retailers saw coming,” said David Ritter, managing director at Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group, a consultancy. “It’s a unique opportunity that sits at the intersection of extensive digital marketing and foot traffic that has bounced back at an unexpected rate.”

And as a Gen-Z favourite, Glossier has an edge.

Although the most digitally-native generation, this customer often prefers the “retro” experiences that bring people together in real life — such as going into a physical store to shop — according to Michael Felice, principal at Kearney’s consumer and media practice.

“As a millennial you didn’t fully grow up with that [e-commerce] opportunity, so it’s a luxury to be able to buy online and have it delivered to your door,” Felice added. “For a Gen-Z, you grew up buying online and it’s a luxury to go experience it, see it firsthand, see the colours and touch it and feel it.”

Related Articles:

The Return of Makeup

What Beauty Products Will Consumers Buy in 2021?

Glossier Presses Pause on ‘Play,’ Rethinks Makeup Strategy

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